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Dalton Highway

Dalton Highway is where the tourist Alaska ends and the real one begins. Who knows you may even get a taste of the 'last frontier' there. Following the Steese Highway for 11 miles north out of Fairbanks to its junction with Elliott Highway, and then the Elliott highway for another 73 miles, you arrive at the beginning of the Dalton highway.

Perhaps here I should drop a few words about Fairbanks. Sprawled out for miles in every direction, it may be host to the main campus of University of Alaska, but that is about all there seems remarkable about this place. There is a bunch of big box stores, a Kinko's with Internet access for all you Internet addicts, but not much in the way of character that many other Alaskan locales have. The town is however popular with tourists even in winter when aurora borealis makes a light show in the sky, that is, if you can survive the -60F that the thermometer sometimes dips to.

The Dalton highway was completed in 1978 following the construction of Trans-Alaska Pipeline that brings oil 789 miles across Alaska from the oil fields around Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to an ice free port of Valdez. The highway was built as a service road for the pipeline and a supply road for the oil mining community at Deadhorse at Prudhoe Bay, and only piece by piece became open to the public, with the last section becoming permit-free after 1994.

So much for history, the highway is 416 miles of potholes, gravel, and dirt on which probably only trucks drive close to 60mph. There is only three places along the highway where one can get services such as gasoline and tire repair. There was no gasoline until the Yukon River, some 140 miles north of Fairbanks, which almost caused us quite a bit of grief, but we made it there with the last gallon or two in the tank.

The Dalton highway crosses the Yukon River on an 2200ft long bridge, the only one over it in Alaska. The next attraction, at mile 152, is a colorful Arctic Circle display built near an unfinished campground. Coldfoot, a tiny settlement at mile 175, was originally established by miners. Some of them got 'cold feet' at the prospect of staying through the winter, and thus the name came about.

Already wary of gas station scarcity on the road, we chose to fill up there, and discovered a flat tire. A tire repair shop at the other side of the gas station was a very welcome sight. While a native looking mechanic was working on our car, we ate an early lunch in the 'farthest saloon in North America'. Even though our plan originally was to drive only as far as the Arctic circle, a good burger made us want to see a bit more.

North of Coldfoot, the highway passes some of the more interesting parts of the Brooks Range, close to the Gates of the Arctic national park. The historical town of Wiseman, that at some point in time even had a post office, now appears close to being abandoned and I suspect the few remaining residents want it that way.

There is more mountainous scenery along the road all the way up to Atigun Pass, 4730ft at Mile 245. I do not like the word closure as everyone seems to seek it all the time these days. Well, Atigun Pass seemed like a good one at a time, and we turned around on a lookout about a mile past the pass. To the north there was the North Slope, a treeless plain all the way to the Arctic Ocean. Deadhorse is a few miles short of the ocean at the end of the road, Mile 414.


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Dalton Highway and Trans-Alaska pipeline Arctic Circle Trans-Alaska pipeline 'Farthest north saloon in North America' in Coldfoot Back in bussiness Bridge over Middle Fork Koyukuk River
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Koyukuk River - Modern day Wiseman Road up to Atigun Pass Atigun Pass Descent into the North Slope
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68 degress northern latitude Fox Sukakpak Mountain Sukakpak Mountain Back in Coldfoot Roadside dinner
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Rainbow and I Fireweed Into the sky Pipeline - highway - dust Fueling around Near the Arctic circle
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Dust monster Trucking into the sunset Dust monster Dust monster Evening calm Reflections
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Reflections Bridge over Yukon River Pipeline You have been warned!

Last updated: September 7, 2002
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